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How To Master Fear

My face behind the word fear

The Amygdala nestles itself deep within the brain, appearing as an almond-shaped structure, it scans the environment for threats, challenging every situation and asking the most primitive questions such as “Is this something I fear?" “Will this hurt me?”. Within a thousandth of a second, it determines whether there is a threat and if one is detected, a signal is sent to the body.

The classic example of the hunter-gatherer searching for food needed the amygdala to signal an alert to run at the sight of danger. Blood would rush to the legs immediately to flee the scene, or fight. In modern-day society, the amygdala can help us dodge a car crash but can be a hindrance in other areas of life if not managed appropriately.

We can NOT control what fear feels like. A racing heart, narrowing of vision or sweating are all the body’s defence mechanisms against threats since the dawn of humankind. The same physiological responses can occur when giving a presentation or speaking up in a meeting. It doesn’t matter that there’s no physical danger, the amygdala is still perceiving a threat. You can also activate your amygdala through thinking alone, you could be sitting on the train lost in thought about a major upcoming career transition and suddenly find yourself feeling fearful.

The good news is that thanks to evolution, you can control your response to fear. This article will take you through 3 ways you can do that. Master them and you master fear.

 1. Train the Nervous System

A moment after that signal from the amygdala is sent to tell your body there’s a threat, there are also messages to other brain regions to analyse the situation. Particularly the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), it can apply some rationality to the situation and make a more logical decision, something the hunter-gatherer couldn’t do much of. The problem today is, that even though we’ve evolved to develop this ability, people aren’t using it enough as a tool and instead still reacting irrationally.

The world has a variety of tools to choose from today, tools that can help strengthen your PFC. A stronger PFC can help override the reaction to an inaccurate amygdala signal. Yoga, Tai-chi, Qi Gong, Meditation, Breathwork, Cold exposure etc. and even walking is effective as long as mindfulness is applied. Find what works for you and build a routine around it.

One that I like to use with clients is visualisation. Not only does it activate the relaxation side of the nervous system but it can also prepare someone for a fearful event. We know the brain loves imagining things and we also know the brain can’t distinguish between reality and imagination. For example, when giving a presentation, visualising presenting confidently can help train your nervous system for the actual thing.

Meet Joe, a client who was experiencing a lump in his throat immediately before presenting to senior executives. I guided him through a detailed visualisation of the scene. Interestingly he told me afterwards he was sweating during the visualisation. Why? Because the brain thinks it’s real and will send signals to the body like it was. The difference however and this is key, he got to practice being calm throughout. He controlled the narrative and gave his brain a chance to experience things as being OK!

Don’t believe in the power of visualisation?

Dr. Alan Richardson performed a study on 3 groups of basketball players making free throws for 20 days.

Group 1 - Practiced shooting free throws on the court

Group 2 - Only imagined themselves shooting them

Group 3 - They did neither.

After 20 days, the researchers found that Group 1 improved by 24%, Group 2 improved by 23% and Group 3 had no improvement. Yes, the visualisers were only 1% behind the group that actually practiced.

2. Trash Old Assumptions

These are negative perceptions about yourself or the external world formed over time that limit your potential. “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not skilled enough”, “I will look stupid”, “It’s wrong to fail”, “The world doesn’t want me to succeed” etc.

Often you aren’t aware they’re occurring i.e. they are non-conscious. Picked up and ingrained from all sorts of places. Whether it be societal influences, past experiences, the environment or even ancestral. They’re a hindrance to taking action. They keep you stuck.

Your first step, become aware they are occurring i.e. make them conscious. Your second step is to welcome them in, befriend them, and accept them. Accepting them isn’t the same as saying they are true. You’re simply accepting they exist without resistance. Only now can you start finding the doubt and discovering the truth.

Quote from Debbie Ford on Self Awareness

Remember Joe with the lump in his throat before presentations? He too had some outdated assumptions circling his psyche. Fed up with the physical manifestation, he decided to confront it by looking inside for answers. In my opinion, that is the bravest thing someone can do because it comes with an additional fear of finding out something that you don’t want to know.

That additional fear is the ego trying to protect the identity it’s built for yourself. The ego will generate a feeling of fear when an attempt is made to challenge that identity. Choosing trust at that moment to move through the resistance, however, can bring about the clarity you need and the old negative assumptions can dissolve.

3. Take Meaningful Risks

When you’re living with more clarity of mind, you’re taking risks in activities that you want to try, that feel right for you beneath the fear. The action taken is in line with your essence and so, has more meaning behind it. As a result, inner joy becomes the reward over temporary highs.

In coaching others through fear whether it be presenting, speaking up in meetings or career changes, the most persistent fear I hear is the “What will others think of me?”. I know this from my own experience. When I left corporate and started branding myself on social media as a coach, fears tried their best to keep me safe and not publish anything publicly. I feared selling myself on Linkedin. I feared negative judgement from family, friends and ex-colleagues.

Beneath the fear, however, there was something else going on and I felt the strong urge to take a risk on it. A different feeling from an impulse. The late famous author in the field of mythology Joseph Campbell might refer to that feeling as following your bliss. I’ve been following it since and it’s been working out OK so far. The fears I once experienced are now very quiet and even gone in some cases. But I’m not stopping, I want to continue growing and trying new things in my service offering. With that comes new fears, so the cycle repeats:

Train The Nervous System + Trash Old Assumptions + Take Meaningful Risks = Mastering Fear

Richie Kyriacou

Mindset, Career & Life Coach

Download Your FREE Confidence Kit on the homepage. The workbook and video were created to address the challenges of fear, self-doubt, imposter syndrome and a lack of confidence.

Or if you’re interested in exploring one of my coaching programmes, feel free to get in contact by using the form below or book an introduction call.


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